Pittsburgh City Paper – Nearly a year into the pandemic and many people are getting tired of the digital and virtual versions of the art they used to see in person. Luckily for theater fans, Quantum Theatre understands this exhaustion, and created a play-film hybrid performance that, while still an online experience, is not your typical Zoom performance.
For their interpretation of playwright Caryl Churchill’s 2000 play Far Away, Quantum Theatre built three sets in one warehouse in Manchester, as the play is divided into three distinct sections. The performance will be available to view through Quantum Theatre’s website from Fri., Feb. 19-Sun., March 7.
Set in a dystopian version of our world, the lean 45-minute play begins with an eerie and mysterious scene between Joan, played by Lisa Velten-Smith, and her aunt Harper, played by Ingrid Sonnichsen. Joan is trying to get information from her aunt about something disturbing she saw outside, while Harper is not eager to give out any secrets.
From there, the play moves to a hat factory, where Joan forms a friendship with fellow milliner Todd, played by Andrew William Smith, who is Velten-Smith’s real-life husband. (Back in June, the couple was involved with a set of online plays put on by Quantum Theatre that all involved actor couples. That filming set-up involved rehearsals over Zoom and shipping microphones to actors.)
“It progressed all the way to us making this full-on film with a SAG contract and elaborate sets that we built in a huge facility,” says Quantum’s artistic director Karla Boos, who co-directed Far Away along with Joe Seamans.
The production was shot and edited in a total of six weeks, but it doesn’t look like a rush job. Set designer Kelsey Garrett helped give the warehouse set the feel of being shot in an old creaky house, with lighting from Sydney Asselin that captures the darkness of the mood.
For filming their production, the Quantum team used SAG-approved COVID-19 regulations, which included frequent temperature checks, virtual fittings, and teaching actors to do their own makeup. Despite the challenges, everyone was happy to be working in-person for once.
“It was so great to be with people in a rehearsal,” says Boos. “Watching actors really act, and even though it was a film, and I’m new to that, I felt like I was at home.”
Boos first saw Far Away the year it premiered, and its statements on politics and war stuck with her over the past two decades. She says that when she first saw the play in 2000, it was “shocking,” but it now feels “prescient” about the current political climate.
While Boos herself acknowledges that audiences are getting tired of consuming art online, she feels that Quantum Theatre’s production of Far Away stands out from other digital productions that have adapted for the pandemic. But, like nearly everyone in the entertainment industry, she hopes that live performances can return by the summer when the weather is warm, and they can be done outdoors.
While it will still be a challenge, Quantum Theatre is well-equipped for performing plays outdoors and in unusual locations. The company is known for staging shows in places not typically meant for live theater, like their 2019 production of King Lear at Carrie Blast Furnaces.
“We’re hopeful because we work environmentally, and we often work outside,” says Boos. “We do think that by summer, a significant number of people are going to be vaccinated and because we can make large outdoor spaces for distanced audiences, we think we’ll be in the vanguard of companies that offer live performance.”